Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Happiest of Days

'You see Wendy,' he said, 'when the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.'

As my friends here at The Hedge know, I really, really love books. I have 2 very special books I treasure from my childhood, big beautiful story books with the loveliest colour plates complementing the text. The first one I found tucked in my Santa Stocking as a 7 year old in 1962. It was J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy. Barrie requested that Mabel Lucie Attwell illustrate this particular 1921 edition. Miss Attwell was a well known British illustrator of children's books & her cute, nostalgic drawings were often based on her young daughter Peggy. I remember being smitten with the book & enjoying it immensely.

Then 2 weeks later on my birthday, I received the companion book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Inscribed on the title page in my Mum's very distinctive hand-writing is 'To dear Millie on her 8th Birthday with lots & lots of love from Mummy & Daddy xx'. Published in 1906 this was Barrie's first book in the Peter Pan series & famous British artist Arthur Rackham was the illustrator. On opening this book I knew immediately here was something else entirely. Rackham's haunting & dreamlike artistic style was very, very different to Attwell's work. I immersed myself totally in each picture, if fact little Millie glided into each of them & became part of the composition. The joy his work gave me was overwhelming.

I wanted to share some of the work of both artists from the books. I'd love to hear your thoughts on their individual illustrative styles & your favourite image.

Illustrations by Mabel Lucie Attwell

Peter kept watch

They are the children who fall out of their perambulators
They don't want us to land

A Mermaid caught Wendy

The Never Bird

The House under the Ground

The Strange procession set off

When he had freed Wendy

When Wendy grew up

Ilustrations by Arthur Rackham

The Serpentine is a lovely lake, and there is a drowned forest at the bottom of it. If you peer over the edge you can see the trees all growing upside down, and they say that at night there are also drowned stars in it

Old Mr. Salford was a crab-apple of an old gentleman who wandered all day in the Gardens

Away he flew, right over the houses to the Gardens

A band of workmen, who were sawing down a toadstool, rushed away, leaving their tools behind them

There now arose a mighty storm, and he was tossed this way and that

When they think you are not looking they skip along pretty lively

These tricky fairies sometimes slyly change the board on a Ball night

The fairies sit round on mushrooms, and at first they are well behaved

Peter Pan is the fairies' orchestra

The little people weave their summer curtains from skeleton leaves

Fairies never say, 'We feel happy': what they say is, 'We feel dancey'
Image 1: Wiki (of Michael Llewelyn-Davies) All other images: J.M. Barrie


  1. Oh Millie, these are absolutely lovely. I too love Mabel Lucie Atwell and these take me right back to my childhood. I have a copy of "The Water Babies" which she illustrated....the faces are just precious.

    What a beautiful post....

  2. Millie~ This post makes me feel dancey! That first photo reminds me of the Peter Pan costume I wore for Halloween when I was very young. My own Mum made it for me. The illustrations are incredible- I must look for these books~ they would be a well-loved addition to my collection. Thank you ~

  3. Hi Millie,

    I'm with the other two writers that left comments - these are just so lovely. Thanks for sharing these with us. I also love books and if I came across these books I would buy them in a heartbeat!!! Some of the books that are around today lack this character I think. So after much scrolling up and down 'cause as you can appreciate it was very hard not to love all of the illustrations my favourite picks are - from the first book

    when Peter freed Wendy

    from the second book

    Old Mr. Salford
    Change the board on the ball night (so mischievous!) and
    we feel dancey.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a great day and take care.

    Love Janine
    Tasmania, Australia

  4. I love love love Arthur Rackham. I also love the Atwell and I feel like a little child again. There is a Rackham kind of website at I have his Wind in the Willows and he also did Grimm and Cinderella. A bit dark but I think children respond to that. I love childrens books so much (old and new) I could have a whole separate blog on them!

  5. Hi Millie,

    What delightful books you have there.
    The ones we have from our childhood are so precious and they do not seem to make them like this now.
    I love the illustrations of the precious little innocent faces that Mabel Lucie Atwell used to draw.
    They always looked like they were real and seemed to speak to me.
    When we were in London we were staying in a Hotel opposite Hyde Park and went for a walk, to look at the house of J M Barries in Kensington Garden. That was really great seeing where he lived and reading the plaque on the gate.
    I did not think to take a photo of it, pity. I would now for the blog.

    happy week

  6. What a sentimental post this is for me Millie...
    Mr FF gave me a copy of the 1921 edition illustrated by Mabel Lucie Attwell for my 21st birthday. It is still one of my most treasured books. I understand completely your love of this beautiful classic, xv.

  7. Loved all the illustrations Millie. When I was a child Peter Pan was one of my favourite stories. I really identified with Wendy, being an oldest child myself. I think I love the illustrations of Mabel Lucie Atwell the best.

  8. As a huge collector of original books, mainly ones from 1930 to 1970 I just loved this post. The illustrations take you to another world. So beautifully done.

  9. Hi Millie
    I can see how you can easily immerse yourself into both worlds. The Mabel Lucie Atwell illustrations are so happy! What beautiful books to have on your shelf.

    On a whole other tangent - your Masterchef is playing here now, and Brunnel & I are both obsessed - me with the programme, and Brunnel with Justine. MOTH has competition!

  10. A truly magical post, very touching as well.

  11. what darling illustrations! how lovely.

  12. You make me want to go book shopping for our 7 1/2 year old grand daughter. I am such a sucker for great book illustrations.
    The books will be just the right age for her this year. She has inherited the reader gene.
    Thanks for the post.

  13. What a wonderful reminder of gentle days. I have a few favorites that come off the shelf once in a great while. It's good to be able to go back & remember those magical hours spent reading to my children. Thanks for a magical post Millie!

  14. wonderful Millie, I recognise some of these images :) - beautiful


And none will hear the postman's knock
Without a quickening of the heart.
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
~W.H. Auden

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